John Keast Lord: Gold rush veterinarian

John Keast Lord

John Keast Lord (1818-1872)

John Keast Lord was a veterinarian, naturalist and author. He was born and raised in Devon, England and graduated from the Royal Veterinary College in London in 1844.

After service as a veterinary surgeon during the Crimean War, Lord was appointed veterinary surgeon and assistant naturalist to the British North American Land Boundary Commission in 1858. The Boundary Commission, led by the Royal Engineers, marked the 49th parallel between the mainland of British Columbia and the United States.

For the next few years until the Commission ended in 1862, Lord travelled across the province. He witnessed the plight of many lame pack mules that had been left behind by goldseekers. Some of the mules he was able to help, but there were many he couldn’t assist other than to end their suffering. In the winter time, he stayed on Vancouver Island where he compiled his many notes on the birds and wildlife he saw and documented his collection of specimens.

One of his first duties for the Boundary Commission was to go to California and purchase 80 mules and pack saddles, known as aparejos.  Here is his story:

“When equipping the eighty mules I purchased in California for Her Majesty’s  Commission, I had immense difficulty to discover any aparejos which were for sale, as packing happened just at that time to be unusually brisk. I remember at Stockton, when casting about amongst the more probable localities, wherein I might by good fortune possibly alight upon the kind of packing-gear I was in search of, a Yankee merchant, who dealt in everything from toothpicks upwards, came rushing after me, having scented my business as readily as a raven or a vulture would have done a dead carcass.

He began at once in nasal drawl—’ Say, cap, you are just a foolin’ your time; bet your pants, thar ain’t narry aparejo down har, fit to pack squash on.’ ‘Well,’ I replied,’ how can I tell that unless I inquire?’ ‘Waal, I raither guess you want to buy, and I want to sell, so just let us two take an eye-opener, cap, and then make tracks straight a-head for my store, war I can show you sich a lot of aparejos as you ain’t ever seen afore in these parts; I ain’t showed em to none of the boys as yet, guess if I did they’d have the store down slick; give me fifty dollars a-piece for the aparejos, rigging and all, and walk right along with ’em to the bluffs.’

Considering this rather good news, I did ‘liquor up’ with my new friend, and afterwards adjourned to the store, most anxious to secure what I imagined was a valuable prize. Picture my intense disgust when, on being conducted into a cellar, I saw a huge pile of packsaddles, such as had been sent to the Crimea and  returned, and which this speculative individual had picked up cheaply as a consignment from England.

I have already shown how utterly useless these trashy and badly made saddles were in the Crimea, an opinion fully confirmed by this somewhat singular discovery that in the very centre of the busiest ‘packing’ country, perhaps I may safely say in the world, not an individual packer could be found who would take them even as a gift.

The dealer, imagining he had for once in his life stumbled on a ‘ sucker,’ tried to palm them off on me as aparejos ‘that couldn’t be matched.’ It ‘took him down,’ though, when I winked wickedly, and, inventing a slight fiction for the occasion, said, ‘Why, these are the pack-saddles we sold off when the Crimean war ended; I know the lot right well; they are not worth that.’

I snapped my fingers, turned on my heel, and left my friend astonished, and two drinks (50 cents) out of pocket. So much for Crimean packsaddles. Two years afterwards I heard that the unfortunate dealer still possessed them.”